Thai Ex-General Convicted of Human Trafficking Dies of Heart Attack

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2021-06-03
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Thai Ex-General Convicted of Human Trafficking Dies of Heart Attack Former Thai Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen arrives at Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok to hear the verdict on his appeal in the nation’s largest human-trafficking case, Oct. 31, 2019.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

A former three-star Thai army general who was sentenced to 82 years in 2019 after he was convicted on charges of being involved in a major regional ring that smuggled in Rohingya and Bangladeshis, died in a prison hospital after suffering a heart attack, authorities said Thursday.  

Manas Kongpaen, 65, was found unconscious at the corrections department’s hospital and died on Wednesday evening, the department said in a news release. Manas was among 62 of 102 defendants convicted in 2017 following a sensational trial that stemmed from the discovery of dozens of graves of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis along the Thai-Malaysian border in May 2015.

“Regarding Manas Kongpaen’s death, the autopsy found he suffered an acute heart attack,” the statement said. “He was walking to exercise but fainted, went unconscious and was not breathing. … He received CPR and was placed on a respirator.

“At 7 p.m. on the same day, the doctors performed medical procedures to save his life and tested for COVID-19 which was negative. … He died at 7:40 p.m.,” the statement said.

Manas had been transferred from Bangkok’s Klong Prem Central Prison on May 2 to the hospital and was under close watch until his death, it said.

In July 2017, a Thai court sentenced Manas to 27 years in prison after finding him guilty for his role in trafficking Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshis as part of a crime syndicate. The sentence was more than tripled to 82 years in October 2019.

“Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen was found guilty of five offenses, punishable to 55 years. Combined with other previous 27-year jail terms from other crimes, the total jail term now is 82 years,” a judge at the Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok said in 2019 while upholding the lower court’s decision.

The appeals court in 2019 also convicted 26 others after prosecutors launched an appeal against all 102 defendants, meaning 88 of those charged were found guilty.

Manas’ conviction was based on evidence that he had received a kickback from trafficking kingpin Pajjuban Aungkachotephan, (alias Ko Tong).

Ko Tong, or “Big Brother Tong,” owned resorts on the island of Kho Lipe, and was accused of receiving trafficked persons and sending them to Malaysia.

Manas held a key post in maintaining security in Thailand’s southern border region and preventing illegal migration there, when he participated in human trafficking efforts of Rohingya and other undocumented people, the courts ruled.

The former general and the others were arrested in 2015 as part of a Thai crackdown on illegal immigration.

The crackdown was triggered in May 2015 when the bodies of 32 suspected undocumented migrants were discovered at traffickers’ camps abandoned in the jungle in Songkhla province, near Thailand’s border with Malaysia. Investigators said the graves were part of a camp where traffickers held migrants until their relatives paid for their release.

Thailand was seen as a destination or transit country for people trafficked from its neighboring countries, such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, according to the United Nations and the Australia-based rights group Walk Free Foundation, which monitors countries allegedly experiencing cases of modern slavery.

Arraignments began in November 2015, but not without controversy, and the trial opened in March 2016.

Lead police investigator Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin resigned just days before the arraignments began and sought asylum in Australia a month later, after claiming that influential people in the government had ordered him to stop the probe.

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